Stephen Hawking: Is there meaning to life?

Flickr: Doug Wheller


Under the banner title of Stephen Hawking’s Grand Design, the Discovery Channel has recently shown three TV episodes,1 narrated by Hawking, and titled respectively: “Did God Create the Universe?”, “The Meaning of Life”, and “Key to the Cosmos”. These are a visual re-presentation by Stephen Hawking of much of the material in his 2010 book, The Grand Design (co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow).2

The book was thoroughly reviewed and critiqued by CMI’s Jonathan Sarfati in his article Hawking atheopathy: Famous physicist goes beyond the evidence.3 In this article we shall discuss the first two of these episodes, and then give our answer to the questions raised therein. The third episode will be the subject of another article.

Episode 1: “Did God Create the Universe?

This was a re-run of the Curiosity TV program of the same title, shown in the USA and Australia in 2011, which we commented on in Curiosity: Did God create the universe? Prof. Hawking’s answer to the question in the title was:

There was no time before the big bang … for God to exist in. What happened at the beginning of the universe is the final key for removing the need of a creator of the universe. … There is no God who directs our fate. There is probably no heaven and no after-life either.

Really? Although the learned professor is a perceived authority on modern physics and cosmology, this does not make him an ‘information all-rounder’, i.e. an authority on theology, providence, eschatology, and immortality. Nor yet on historical or forensic science.4 Indeed most of the elements of the big bang theory as promoted by Stephen Hawking are now being challenged by many of his fellow evolutionist professors. These challenges include:

  1. Hawking’s belief that everything in the universe originated from nothing, which his peers say contradicts the principle that every effect needs a cause.
  2. Rather than there being nothing before the big bang, as Hawking claims, many evolutionist cosmologists are now trying to fabricate ways to explain how our present universe emerged from one or more preceding universes (while at the same time avoiding saying how the first one began).
  3. Invoking infinity, as Hawking does in the idea that everything in the universe was once in an infinitely small point of infinite density (a singularity). This is regarded by one expert as “the same as giving up or cheating” (see Dr Param Singh, the big bounce in What happened before the big bang?)

As details of all the above are available in our article, What happened before the big bang?, we shall not comment further here. However, we can’t help but wonder why a man of Professor Hawking’s undoubted mental acumen but limited health and strength feels the need to spend so much time and effort trying to convince the world that God does not exist. Is he perhaps trying to substantiate the wishful thinking of German atheist Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), who wrote: “We deny God; in denying God we deny accountability”?5

Episode 2: “The meaning of Life

In this program Prof. Hawking asks and then attempts to answer the question: “Is there a reason why we exist, a meaning to life?” He begins by telling us his personal axiom that everything in life is nothing more than physics.6

According to Hawking, the laws of physics not only produced the universe we live in, but also our minds.

The Game of Life

In support of the latter proposition, Hawking shows viewers a computer program called The Game of Life, invented by a John Conway in the 1970s. This is an arrangement of squares in a grid (something like a chessboard of unlimited size) that simulates a two-dimensional ‘universe’. Some squares in the grid can reproduce themselves and then amalgamate with each other, if the starting configuration has been given the right set of instructions to cause this to happen. Viewers are then told that “it is possible to imagine that something like The Game of Life, with only a few basic laws, might produce highly complex features, perhaps even intelligence.”

We suggest that this would depend very much on who was doing the imagining! This fanciful conclusion is a repeat from Hawking and Mlodinow’s book,7 in which it leads on to Hawking’s extraordinary claim that the universe created itself:

Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing in the manner described in Chapter 6.8 Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.9

The logical errors in this statement are almost too numerous to recount. Here are some:

  1. How can anything create itself before it exists?
  2. What intrinsic property does nothing have that enables it to create anything?
  3. Gravity is the force of attraction that arises between objects by virtue of their masses. So before any matter existed, no gravity existed. How then could it have operated before it existed?
  4. If any law of physics caused the universe to create itself, then that law must have existed before the universe began, i.e. before time began, and so that law must be outside of time. But how could that be?
  5. What (or who) created the laws of physics?
  6. Scientific laws do not create anything. They describe things that already exist, or processes that are observable and repeatable. They do not cause anything any more than the outline of a map causes the shape of the coastline it describes.
  7. Spontaneous creation … Just how do the laws of physics achieve this?

Intellectual nonsense does not suddenly become gospel truth because it is uttered by a famous savant.

Reality—subjective or absolute?

On this subject, Hawking advances the classical evolutionist line that reality is in the mind of the beholder. To do this he shows us a girl holding a glass bowl that contains a swimming goldfish. The world that the girl sees (a market place) looks very different from the same world as seen by the goldfish through its curved glass bowl. From this, Hawking tells us that he doesn’t think that one reality is more valid than another, so to him this means that reality itself is in the mind of the beholder, i.e. reality is subjective.

However, according to The New Oxford Dictionary of English, the primary meaning of ‘reality’ is: “The world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.” If the girl were in a similar glass bowl, and had eyes adjusted to the refractive index of water like the fish’s, then she would see the market place similarly to the way the fish sees it. And if either were blind, then they would not see the market place at all. The market place itself would not change as a result of being variously viewed, or cease to exist when not viewed at all. Nor is evidence for anything limited to sight. A market place in particular can be experienced by our other senses of smell, taste, touch, and hearing.

Hawking then introduces us to quarks as the invisible building blocks of protons, and he asks: “Are quarks a reality?” His own answer:

They exist only in so far as they are a model that works. This is called the concept of model-dependent reality. I believe this leads directly to the meaning of life.

This leads to the following exegesis by Hawking:

  1. “The brain is responsible not only for the reality we perceive, but also for our emotions and meaning too.”
  2. “Love and honour, right and wrong, are part of the universe we create in our minds just as a table, a plane, and a galaxy.”
  3. “The meaning of life is what you choose it to be. It is not somewhere out there but right between our ears. This makes us the lords of creation.”

Our answer

Hawking’s amateurish philosophizing raises the question: what happens when different brains create different ‘realities’ or have different ideas of right and wrong? They can’t all be right.

As Bible-believing Christians, we begin with the axiom that God does exist and has revealed Himself to man, and man has the ability to apprehend this revelation. This gives us different answers to the questions that puzzle Hawking.

  1. God, as revealed in the Bible, is the eternal uncaused first cause.
  2. God created the universe and everything in it.
  3. God chose to do this in six days about 6,000 years ago.
  4. God created mankind in His own image and likeness.
  5. There is another dimension to reality besides that which we can describe with our five senses, or in Hawking’s case assume if it substantiates a model. This is what God says exists. It includes Heaven and Hell, and Satan. And other realities include life after death and future judgment, as well as sin, forgiveness of sin, and peace with God.
  6. Because God created us, He had a purpose in doing so. Many parts of the Bible speak of this—our main purpose is simply to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

Revelation 4:11 says, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.

Published: 22 July 2012


  1. In July 2012 in Australia. Return to text.
  2. Hawking, S., & Mlodinow, L, The Grand Design, Bantam Press, London, 2010. Return to text.
  3. Also in Journal of Creation 25(1):25–29, 2011. Return to text.
  4. Conducting experiments to observe effects is called operational science, whereas hypotheses about the unobserved and unobservable past involve historical or forensic science. Return to text.
  5. Nietzsche, F., Twilight of the Idols, Chapter 6, The Four Great Errors, section 8, trans. by R.J. Hollingdale. Return to text.
  6. An axiom is an assumption made without proof for the purpose of argument. Return to text.
  7. Ref. 2, p. 225. Return to text.
  8. Chapter 6 of The Grand Design book deals principally with Hubble’s concept of an expanding universe that was smaller in the past, Eddington’s concept of this as a bubble, Friedmann’s concept of inflation proceeding at greater than the speed of light, and the claimed uniform cosmic background radiation. Return to text.
  9. Ref. 2, p. 227. Return to text.

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